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A POSTSCRIPT                                                                                                339
accordion ceased, and only the night sounds of the woods,
the sharp cry of a bittern, the distant screech of an owl,
the croaking of frogs in the bog near by, and the chirping
of grasshoppers accompanied the rhythmic sounds of the
low, pensive voice.
The amazing story this man told was so thrilling that
I tried to get it down as fully as I possibly could. I filled
the exercise book, found another on the shelf and filled
that, and failed to notice that the sky, visible in the narrow
doorway of the dugout, had paled. Alexei Meresyev had
brought his story up to the day when, after shooting down
three planes of the Richthofen Division, he felt that he
had become again a fully fit airman equal to the rest.
"While we've been chatting the night's slipped by, and
I have to go up first thing in the morning," he remarked,
interrupting his story. "I must have wearied you. Let's
get some sleep."
"But what about Olya? What was her answer?" I
asked, and then checked myself and said: "I'm sorry!
Perhaps that's an awkward question. Don't answer it if
it is...."
"Why?" he said, laughing. "We were cranks, both of
us. It turned out that she knew all about it. My chum,
Andrei Degtyarenko, wrote her at once—first about my
crash, and then that my feet had been amputated. But
she, seeing that I was keeping this from her, decided that
it was hard for me to tell her about it and pretended not
to know anything. We were deceiving each other, heaven
knows why! Would you like to have a look at her?"
He turned the wick up and carried the lamp to the
photographs in the neat plexiglass frames hanging on
the wall over the head of his bunk. One, an amateur pho-
tograph, almost completely faded and worn, barely showed
the features of a smiling, carefree girl, sitting among the
flowers in a meadow. The other showed the same girl
in the uniform of a junior lieutenant-technician, with a
stern, thin, clever face and a concentrated expression in
her eyes. She was so small that in her uniform she looked
a pretty boy, but this boy had tired and unboyish, pene-
trating eyes.
"Do you like her?"
"Very," I answered in all sincerity.